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Sustainable Winegrowing with Vineyard Team

Sustainable Winegrowing with the Vineyard Team brings you the latest in science and research for the wine industry. This on-the-go, sustainable farming educational resource provides in-depth technical information on topics like integrated pest management, fruit quality, water conservation, and nutrient management from experts like Dr. Mark Fuchs of Cornell University, Dr. Michelle Moyer of Washington State University, Cooperative Extension Specialists, veteran growers, and more. Our podcasts will help you make smarter, sustainable vineyard management decisions to increase efficiency, conserve resources, and maximize fruit quality.

Jun 15, 2023

As a wine producer, you owe it to yourself to talk about your sustainable practices as much as you can. Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, Principal at Full Cup Solutions explains that you never know what unique story about your brand will engage your next consumer, trade account, team member, or press writer. Use video and photos to capture specific practices including cover cropping, reusing barrels, and community donations. With a bank of digital collateral, you can easily bring practices to life online. Amanda shares simple and effective staff training tools, how to quickly build rapport with clients, and why sharing your story makes you stand out in the marketplace. 



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Craig Macmillan  0:00 

Today our guest is Amanda Wittstrom Higgins she is the Principal of Full of Cup Solutions. And we're gonna be talking about sustainability communication for wineries and vineyards. Thanks for being on the show, Amanda.


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  0:10 

Oh, I'm glad to be here. Thank you for having me, Craig.


Craig Macmillan  0:13 

First of all, tell us a little bit about what you do. What is Full Cup Solutions do?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  0:16 

Thanks for asking Craig Full Cup Solutions is a strategic advising company aimed at elevating agriculture and the beverage industry, I work with companies to help uncover their greatest gifts and tell their stories to customers and partners, all while making their company more efficient from an operational perspective is really just coming in and acting as an advisor.


Craig Macmillan  0:39 

So what roles do sustainability efforts play within a company and beyond considering resources? So you're coming in and you're helping people kind of find ways of kind of telling their story is kind of how I understand it. A lot of companies are doing things internally, what's the benefit? Or what are the roles of things to take it outside the company?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  0:56 

It's a great question. So sustainability is a really important element of most companies. And I think I've grown up as a farmer and worked in the wine and beverage industry for the last 15 years, both on a national scale as well as direct to consumer. And I think that there's a real opportunity for brands to stand out in the marketplace, through sharing their stories of sustainability, you can stand out in the marketplace, you can stand up to prospective employees, and really just stand out as a farming community, which I think is really, really important. You have to remember that close to 20% of wine consumers live in five metropolitan areas. So the majority of the world


Craig Macmillan  1:42 



Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  1:42 

It's pretty crazy. And actually close to 50% live in 25. metropolitan areas. So it's really interesting when you think about it, from a consumer perspective how little most people know about farming. And when we talk sustainability, Craig, especially at the Vineyard Team, and for SIP, it's not just farming practices, you know, it's social responsibility, its economic viability, it's a very holistic approach, which I love, and I think is very encompassing of great business. Beyond simply conserving and those resources, I think that there's huge advantages for companies to talk about what they do, not only in the field, but within their own communities. And for the industry at large. I like to look at it as an overlap between social and environmental progress, and financial gain. It's a shared values opportunity, where you can do good things and still have a direct impact on your company, as well as the community.


Craig Macmillan  2:43 

I think you actually I've kind of already moved into this, but I know that you like to talk about the farming aspect of things you come from a farming background. And obviously, folks that live in these more urban metropolitan areas really don't have a connection to that when it comes to communicating a company's sustainability story. Why focus on the farming as opposed to other areas of the operation, let's say like, the winery where they're doing water, conservation of the solar power, or something like that, what what's special about farming?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  3:10 

As a producer, you owe it to yourself to talk about as much as you can. So you never really know what's going to engage the person on the other side. And I think that in the wine business, and in the farming business, we tend to talk about what we know about and that's the product, right? It's how we made it, it's how we farmed. But some of the things that are really magical that captivate the consumer that could attract your next employee could attract the next media reviewer to write about you, or perhaps your distribution or retail partner are things that you might not realize are as special as they really are. Because they're so close to you. Farming is one of those things that because the majority of consumers and the majority of the world doesn't come from a farming background. It's a little bit of a mystery to most people. And my experience is farmers are really like magical people. They deeply care about the environment, their salt of the earth, you know, it gets me emotional, just thinking about it. And that's actually one of the reasons that I launched my company, Full Cup Solutions was because I felt like I kept seeing the wine industry decline. And wine is such a beautiful beverage. It's you know, it's taking the best parts of our environment of farming and it's sharing them with people around community and meals, which I think is the fabric of what this world needs to become a better place. I really feel that wine has the opportunity of being bring people together. But you know, when you're talking about farming as opposed to other areas of the operation, I think you need to talk about all of it. But I don't think you should forget how special farming is in particular. It can be a great way to stand out it can be a great way to educate the the greater population that doesn't have regular exposure to agriculture.


Craig Macmillan  5:04 

Right, right. I think that's fantastic. And I agree with you, there's a magical quality to this. That was what drew me into the industry was being exposed to grape vines for the first time. And I was it was magical. It really was. And I have, I'd love to have that experience. But I can introduce people to that there. It's just a magical thing. the winemaking process is magical. And like you said, there's this there's a social glue that can come from sharing something like wine, which is, again, a really nice part of the whole picture. So consumers are definitely interested in sustainability. They're also interested in other things related to wine product, what would you say are the top seven or so things that consumers care about most? When it comes to a wine product?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  5:41 

Well, I think that sustainability is certainly important. It's towards the top, I'd say it's in the top 10. But it's not number one, when you are dealing with what's most important, I think, you know, quality is number one, quality is number one, price is also very important, packaging, brand story, the service and the experience that a consumer receives, the place that the product comes from, and sustainability. And I think that knowing what a consumer wants is the first step to helping you stand out. So it's not simply all or nothing with any one topic with any one type of content, it's really making sure that you know, your plan your communication strategy, and that, you know, the fabric of your company really encompasses all the things that are important to your consumer, to your prospective employees. And, you know, to your shareholders, constituents.


Craig Macmillan  6:32 

I want to come back to something you said a couple of times that I think is really, really interesting. And it applies definitely to my life. In attracting employees. Tell me more about that. Because that's the you're the first person I've talked to that's included that as part of a sustainability messaging.


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  6:45 

It's critical. If you look at how to create a sustainable company, right? It's about people, people are incredibly important, it's important for you to realize that you can almost not accomplish any goal without quality people, some of the things that you may be doing and maybe taking for granted, could be something that attracts those people to your company, the next generation, I think all generations want to be part of something that special that's got longevity, you know, that stands for something bigger than simply selling a product and, and receiving cash flow. So making sure that you're aware of it gets you one step closer.


Craig Macmillan  7:24 

I think you're absolutely right. That's a really interesting idea. I think having folks that are attracted to a company based on kind of like shared values, and they're kind of in line with the overall kind of orientation of the organization, I think is huge. And you have a lot of retention is another part of that you know, someone who's going to stay for a while, can you give me examples of some of the things that maybe you've recommended to your clients in some of these areas, things that were kind of actionable?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  7:48 

Depending on what channel you're looking at, to engage, whether it's social media, there's certainly options, I think bringing your practices to life is really important through video and imagery. And so I would suggest making sure that you're documenting even some of the most simple procedures, whether it's like, hey, we've got farm chickens on the ranch. And, you know, this is why they benefit soil health. And we actually donate the eggs to, you know, the local school or, or whatever it might that sustainability and a number of factors. And it may seem really small, but you never know how you're going to capture that next person that could be interested in you in your brand and your story. Something else would be like right now beautiful cover crops, right? You've got that sweet pea blend that you're seeing all over the place. Now why? Why is that important? How does that help with soil health, water conservation, wildlife habitat, I love seeing people foraging for natural resources, whether that's an experience for their consumers or something that they're enjoying, you know, just as as a fun event, or even just from an educational perspective, animal identification and discovery of plant. Teaching and sharing with the world the resources that you have, and those things that are important to you as a company from a farming perspective. Now you could also go and talk about like, reusable, whether it's a fallen tree and why fallen trees are you know, a great source of firewood or what are you doing with you know, your old barrel bongs? Are you making dog toys? Are you reusing barrel planters from other for for some other purpose or gifting them to your wine club? from a community perspective? Are you sponsoring youth teams? Are you volunteering for mentorship or educational opportunities for your employees? So there's a number of different things that you can do to provide examples and that's to a consumer. Now, if you're looking at say that the trade or accounts or national retailers if perhaps you're your wine producer, you know, this is a really important category within a lot of the national you know, retail set as well as on premise and off premise on independent making sure that you've got Whatever those principles are, and those fabric of of sustainability for you making sure that it's present and available, and you know, and recorded digitally, so that you can share that with others is really important. And from a media perspective, you never know what is going to engage the next journalist. And so by having these types of activities available, either on your website or social media, or as part of your email campaigns, you know, you might just touch someone in a way that's very authentic to you. And meaningful to them. And only good can come from it. Right. And I, I highly suggest, you know, authenticity is the only way to carry yourself in this sustainability perspective. But yeah, absolutely touch people in all sorts of different ways.


Craig Macmillan  10:46 

So we have all these many channels, we have social media, I see a lot of things in print, in terms of like travel magazines, or local guides, I see a lot of material and tasting rooms in terms of posters, or pamphlets, or photos and things kind of what's the strategy you might recommend to folks in terms of using these different channels?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  11:05 

One of the old, the old sayings was that you have to touch someone seven times before they purchase from you. And that statistic has been increased to 16 times.




It's amazing. It's amazing, the world is full of content, I would say, do as much as you can, and make sure that you are utilizing that information in a multitude of two ways and repurposing it for your different channels, as you mentioned. So, you know, I love video, I love imagery, I think that, you know, a picture's worth 1000 words and a videos worth a million. So if we can bring people into our farms or into our business to showcase what we're doing from a sustainable perspective, I think that that adds an incredible amount of value. Social media is a great way to integrate that for very low cost. email campaigns are really important building your your email list for your true fans. Blogs are really terrific. And then making sure you got you know, sustainability sprinkled in throughout your website, during your in person experience, you know, making sure that that's part of your staff training, your team really understands that this is a point of distinction for us as a company, and this is part of our values. And it needs to be mentioned, and it's what customers are looking for.


Craig Macmillan  12:24 

Do you think there's particular areas around sustainability that consumers are most interested in? And are there particular areas that they're probably the least familiar with?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  12:33 

The social equality aspect that the SIP program touches on is something that not everyone thinks of when they think of sustainability, and that's something that I really love. And over my years in the industry, that's something that gets a lot of raised eyebrows, when you mentioned, the preservation of natural resources is really important. There's certainly several other programs that touch on that. But I think that social equality is really important, and especially in this day and age, how we treat our our people is, is something that's very important.


Craig Macmillan  13:05 

How do you do that? And the reason I asked in such a fashion is you're right, that's an area that's often overlooked, and is insanely important. And I'm just trying to imagine, in my mind, how do I how do I convey that to people? What's the framing here?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  13:20 

Well, I think it has to be factual, you know, I think that it has to be something that's near and dear to your heart. And whether it's caring about people within your team within your community, or a bigger cause, it needs to be something that, you know, that's actually true. And it's not like you lead with it from a communication perspective. But Must! Charities is a great example of an organization that a lot of members within your group contribute to, and it's about really helping a specific region that is in need, and bettering that part of our community. So if there are things that you're passionate about whether it's certifications for your tasting room team to have WSECT level one or level two, or perhaps you create an internship program, or you're collaborating with the university, or perhaps there is, you know, some type of a, of a nonprofit that you align with or that you like to promote from within and, and that your average tenure for an employee is X amount of years, I think those are all things that can be talked about from a social responsibility, perspective that are important to consumers and, and just help create that link to your brand. From a sustainability perspective that get gets people to engage long term.


Craig Macmillan  14:39 

You've mentioned a number of really, really great things in terms of the where consumers are coming from, how do we find these things out? How do we find out what consumers are interested in?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  14:48 

Well, I think asking would be great. Asking though, you know,


Craig Macmillan  14:54 

I'm chuckling because that's one of my things where people be talking about this or that and I'll say, Well, did you ask them They're like, No. And I'm like, Well, why don't you do that? Why don't you go ask him what they want? Or ask them what they're afraid of, or whatever it is. And does this take place like in the tasting room? Is a survey information? Is this, like surveys on Facebook? Or little quizzes on Instagram would? How do we talk to people?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  15:15 

I think one on one engagement and in the tasting room is a great way to start, I think that you're always going to get authentic insights. When you're in person, you know, whether it's your media partner, or your trade partner, your distributor partner, or a consumer or a wine club member, or even your staff. I mean, these are great places to start with just asking the question. Surveys are a great tool as well. You know, surveys on social media are also wonderful. But yeah, I would say just start with, hey, what's important to you and go from there.


Craig Macmillan  15:49 

Obviously, tasting room staff are going to be huge here. Because of these, this is the interface with the consumer on a one on one way for a lot of folks, what advice do you have around training staff, training your tasting room staff?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  16:00 

Oh, my gosh, I have so many ideas. You know, I think that, like many consumers, a lot of the hospitality staff that works in tasting rooms is probably not that familiar with farming, and viticulture, especially if you are in, you know, a rural environment, which most wine regions are, you know, I think having a solid top notch staff training program is really, really important. I even like to recommend kind of a conversation flowchart for when someone asks this, this is, this might be a great way to respond. Trying to develop rapport quickly with your guests is something that's really important and figuring out what are they most looking for, in this experience, you know, some people are just coming in to taste and enjoy perhaps a companionship with whomever that they they came with. And other people are deeply inquisitive. And if those individuals are deeply inquisitive, and that person, or can that individual offer a rich experience. And the best way to do that is to make sure that you've got tremendous assets from a training perspective available, whether that's tech sheet, or even the really like your eco chart that you've got on your website that talks about the difference between sustainability and biodynamic and organic, organic, from a certification perspective is really important. So just making sure you've got a lot of different assets and tools in a toolbox, ready for your staff. Something else that I love to have is, again, the videos and the pictures are really important. One thing that you all have on your website is like a seasonal sustainability chart, which I think is really terrific. Because if you can create some type of a email campaign or group text message, or whatever it is talking about the seasonality of sustainability, from the vineyard perspective, I think that can be really powerful. So it's not the same conversation shouldn't be happening with guests, you know, throughout the year, it should be seasonal, and that makes it more interesting. And so operating images and videos based on those seasonal activities are really important. Those are just a few things that I'd recommend.


Craig Macmillan  18:11 

So it sounds like it would be a good idea to have as part of your regular staff meetings, having maybe folks who work in those areas, vineyard managers, or whoever coming in and just kind of touching base and making sure that people kind of know what's going on out there. I'd like to seasonality, I think that's important because it does also communicate the whole agriculture inland, and climate and season being important. Because a lot of folks don't understand kind of how that works. I think they think of wind kind of as a factory product, like, well, we'll just make some when there's so much more that has to happen. Before we get to that point. In the end. It's not a question simply of what are we doing, but also how are we doing it? That's the sustainability part of it. What do you see in the future? Yeah, what do you see coming down the line for wine companies in terms of what the landscape looks like around consumers and sustainability? I think people are getting more interested? Are they getting less interested? Are they looking for particular things? Are there particular qualities and products? You mentioned a number of things already, and you need when you look into your crystal ball? What do you what do you see the consumer doing in the future?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  19:10 

Well, I think depending on your brand, and what assets that you see you have whether you are a tasting room, or a winery on land, or perhaps depending on who you are, and what and what your business plan is, I think sustainability needs to be woven into. Personally, I think it's a it's a really important part of how we as farmers are going to move forward in the industry and in the landscape. The current, you know, beverage landscape is that this is a real way for us to distinguish ourselves as advocates for the environment as advocates for social responsibility and for good business. And so I think that there needs to be a continued focus on sustainability and our efforts to help not only protect Mother Nature, but you know, protect and help grow our teams and our communities. Think that there's no have meant towards that from a retail perspective, from a media perspective and an experience perspective. Truthfully, I think that consumers are dying for authenticity, they're oftentimes really wanting to learn. And Mother Nature is so magical. So I think that anytime you can, that you can offer kind of a peek behind the curtain, whether that's what you're doing from a farming perspective, or how you're, you're uplifting your community or your employees, that you're always going to have people who are interested. And you can only say, why don't you buy my product or my product is Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanc or whatever, or this is my label so many times. I mean, you've got to encourage people with interesting content, that should be part of a healthy sales and marketing campaign. It's just a way to engage people in an authentic way that that helps lift farmers.


Craig Macmillan  20:57 

What is one thing that you would tell folks in the industry regarding this topic, one, one piece of advice, or one insight that you would tell people?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  21:06 

Well, I have two.


Craig Macmillan  21:07 

Okay, I'll give you I'll let you have to.


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  21:09 

Okay, thank you, I appreciate that. I would say don't forget how special you are, and how everyday practices of farming and caring for your community and team might distinguish you in the marketplace. So often people want to perhaps play follow the leader. But what makes you stand out is what makes you special, and that's usually individual. And then secondly, I would encourage people to remember, most consumers are not like you, most consumers don't come from a farming and agricultural production background. Make sure that when you're putting together your plan, when you're talking with your consumers, when you're crafting what your experience looks like that you realize that most people are not like you and that other things might be important to them, or more relevant and open to engaging in different ways that perhaps are not as intuitive because it might just be what sets you apart.


Craig Macmillan  22:06 

Where can people find out more about you?


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  22:09 

Wonderful, while full cup would be a great place or on Instagram for cup solutions. Yeah, love to connect, if you'd like insight or thoughts or just to reach out and I'd be happy to hear.


Craig Macmillan  22:25 

Fantastic. Well, that's all the time we've got for today. Amanda, I want to thank you this has been a really fun conversation for me and I hope for you.


Amanda Wittstrom Higgins  22:30 

Absolutely. Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.


Craig Macmillan  22:35 

Again, Amanda Wickstrom Higgins principal of full cup Solutions has been our guest today.


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